Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pleasure gained from useless knowledge

The following quote by Bertrand Russell resonates much with what I'm thinking about doing phd right now. It's roughly: there's much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. While it may sound very pessimistic, I actually enjoy this process, discount-ing for all of the annoying and less-than-effective thing that I would like to complain. I enjoy being at the frontier of human knowledge, looking into the unknown, trying to learn something and share it with the scientific community. I enjoy doing stuffs that are different than what others are doing. I enjoy being at the beginning of a scientific field that I hope will open up to a lot of potentially cool experiments in the future. It's still early to say whether this is going to happen. But this is research. Things don't always work. It never goes the same way as you originally intended it to be. And things may actually not work. When it does not, we just keep on moving. Also it may turn out that all of this is just an empty wish. That this field may not flourish in the end. In any case, this useless knowledge is still fun to pursue, I hope :).

Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing as an exercise in project planning

Recently, I found myself more convinced with the idea that by forcing myself to write my plan out in detail, I give myself the chance to think really hard about the project, something I will not usually do if I just plan it on the fly.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

An impression of Wakatobi

A bit more than two weeks ago, I travelled to Makassar to attend one of my friends wedding in Makassar. It was an idea floated by another friend, suggesting that we should travel to Wakatobi while we were already there. Wakatobi (google it google it...) is one of those chains of islands that were, in the past, pretty hard to get an access to simply because there is no proper infrastructure to reach there (I may be very possibly wrong on this).

I was in general, as usual, unprepared for the trip. I simply didn't know what was coming and what to expect from the trip. I didn't even know that Wakatobi is famous for its water sport, such as diving and snorkelling. This trip is pretty special for me, because it's now, by far, the most eastern part of Indonesia I've ever been to (previous record held by Makassar, and mind that I've not visited Bali yet, i.e. Balivirgin, T.T) and also, I first heard about Wakatobi from this very relaxing song by Budi Doremi, titled Asmara Nusantara (check it out: ). Never have I thought that I would one day visit this place called Wakatobi.

Furthermore, I have to shamefully admit that, despite having travelled to a few number of the popular cities in Europe, I have an extremely bad track record of travelling around Indonesia. It's been a shame, as in my instances have shown, that a measureable number of foreigners I've met here, have been to more places in Indonesia than me. In the most recent conversation I had with my landlord, he told me of his adventure in the past, travelling in Indonesia. He tried to recall one of the cities he went to. I immediately exclaimed 'Bali!'. Within less than a second, he brushed me off, saying that it was not Bali he was talking about as Bali is too popular and that everybody must've been to Bali before! I simply nodded in agreement...

This trip also came in the right time as I've finished reading Elisabeth Pisani's book "Indonesia Etc" telling her story about her travel in some of the remotest place in Indonesia. It's a good book, I really recommend this book as she told a great deal of story about places in Indonesia that you might never visit in your lifetime.

My initial thought of this place told me that it must be an isolated place, with very bad infrastructure, jungle everywhere, dispersed villages, etc. As it turned out, it is not as bad as I have thought, and in fact they now have a pretty good infrastructure. Okay, let me tell the story in detail, as much as I can recall from my direct experience and conversation with the locals.

I have to put a disclaimer first of all, that this is my honest view of Wakatobi, as someone raised in a city far away from the eastern part of Indonesia, constantly bombarded by local knowledge (very often false) that made me assume something about any place that is in general far away from the main island.

Map of Indonesia
Flight route to Wakatobi

Wakatobi mainly consists of four big islands: Wangiwangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, Binongko. The island I visited is Wangiwangi. To reach that Wangiwangi (also referred to as Wanci), I took the only flight that goes there, operated by WingsAir, subsidiary of LionAir, from Makassar. The aircraft is propeller-powered aircraft which made me so excited when I saw it! I seem to have the impression that this is not the first time I took it but it definitely is the first one I had in the last ten years! It is NOISY but AWESOME despite only 10 kg of checked in baggage is allowed!
The cargo is loaded from the front door, passengers get into the plane from the rear door

Can't resist the temptation of taking picture of the propeller when its running at full speed.

From Makassar, the plane flew to Kendari (about 55 mins) for a short stop to refuel, and then it flew to Wanci (about 45 mins). The name of the airport in Wanci is Matahora airport. There is a funny story from one of my friends that travel there together, he called the hotel's number asking for direction from the airport to the hotel. The person then answered that the hotel would be in charge of transporting us from the airport to the hotel and back to the airport again. My friend was then a bit confused because we have never given any information about our flight and continued explaining his confusion to the person. The person then replied telling my friend that there is only one flight that flies there everyday. So they always know what time we are going to arrive there. I'm not sure if as of this moment, there is only one flight per day. Imagine that the airport operator working for few hours, taking care of arrival and departure, and then go back to the daily life activities everyday, it's so weird, in contrast to the typical activity of a busy airport where the operator job probably runs almost 24 hours.

We spent about 3 days 2 nights in Wanci. It's definitely not enough, we need more! The first day we arrived there, it was about noon, full flight. The airport is surprisingly new, I could still see and smell the new layer of asphalt. Expectedly, there is only one aircraft there, the one we took. It stopped in front of the airport entrance. Once we walked into the building, the baggage conveyor belt is directly in sight, and the exit is just right in front of it. There's nothing much there, except for few chairs to sit on and a decently sized map of Wakatobi.

View of Matahora Airport from its field. Aircraft is behind me. Notice that new layer of asphalt (darker color) in front of me.  The entrance on the left is the arrival hall. The one on the right is the departure hall. I was told that Garuda Indonesia will be opening a new flight route to Wanci this coming October. 
I was a bit nervous though, wondering if anyone is going to pick us up after all. Fortunately, there was no need to worry, someone came to pick us up *yay! Upon exiting the airport building, I discovered a really good road in front of us, an asphalt road, smooth and wide enough for two cars going on both direction. It was surprisingly even better than the one we can find in Medan. Of course, it is highly reasonable to find the road in such a good condition when the only car I can see in sight right outside the airport is the one we are taking (the next day, I managed to see three cars, including ours, at the same time).  I can see newly built houses on both sides of the road, children playing in school uniform, from time to time, small shops offering different services/products. Upon conversation with the driver, I was told that this road is a loop in itself circling the whole Wanci island. The airport building, runway, and the good asphalt road were renewed/started like two years ago.
The main road

Pertamina fuel station. I found several pertamina stations along the way. They told me that it's not open everyday and if it's open it's usually finished in few hours. How do they know if the station is operating that day? They have to wait there at 7 in the morning, and ask the operator there if it's open that day.
Oh yes, we live in a resort called Patuno resort, located in an area called (surprise) Patuno. It's a decent and nice resort, with a nice view of the sea, nice place to relax, delicious and decently priced food (average price for a main: 60 - 70K rupiah). Enough said, I'll just put the pictures here.


Wow2: view from the front of my room. Not a swimming pool!

Wow3: Sunrise

Wow4: Sunrise
We managed to go for a short diving session, organised by the resort. It was good, unfortunately we didn't have enough time to enjoy it more. They have a guided diving package so don't be afraid if you do not have prior experience in diving. They prepare the equipment and attire. The diving is not onsite, so they have to bring us elsewhere to find proper spot for diving. We wanted to snorkel on that day as well, but we simply did not have enough time for it. They have to drag us out of diving in time to head back to home. One of the most memorable time for me when I was waiting for my turn to dive again. I was already in the water for quite some time, but then as the water started to recede, the boat has to move away from the shallow water into the deeper water. Since I am still in the water, they asked us if we want to come up or stay in the water, we decided to stay in the water. They let us hold on to the small ladders and rope they have on the side of the boat. 

I did not know what was to come... It was extremely tiring and hard to hang on to it! I was literally hanging on to my life! On the first occasion, there were two of us, and I was holding on to the ladder with my hand. It was not so bad. On the second occasion, there were three of us, and I was in the front line, hanging on the rope only... It was really crazy, as the wave kept hitting on me, I tried to use the breathing equipment to breathe, but it was to no avail. On the third occasion, I thought I was already quite well trained in it, I decided to hold on to the ladder with my hand and my body. There were two of us. The third time didn't go so well too. hahaha. In the end, I think I just have to train my muscle more!

After diving: as you notice, I'm not properly dressed for the occasion. Luckily they need us to wear the diving suit anyway. So I was saved by the grace.
The next day, we decided to rent a car to travel around the city. I think it was like 500K rupiah for 6 hours, not so bad as there are 5 of us and it was considerably cheaper than diving and other stuff. He started bringing us to beaches in Wanci. Then the driver actually offered us a chance to snorkel, at another beach with a much cheaper price than the one offered by the resort. We took the chance. Of course, cheaper price comes with equipment that is probably not so hygienic as compared to the one that the resort offers (but we don't really know as well if the resort's equipment is as good and hygienic as well, so yeah..). In addition, this time, there is no guide as well, so we have to go on our own. Luckily, one of us has done snorkelling before and snorkelling is probably not as technically demanding as compared to diving. I honestly enjoyed snorkelling more than diving. With the breathing piece and a safety float, we are all set to go. I saw more beautiful corals and cute fishes in snorkelling to be honest. It was awesome, if it was not for the fact that we haven't had our lunch and two of our friends were still on the beach waiting for us, we would have snorkelled more!

After snorkelling, the driver brought us to a restaurant called Restoran Wisata. It's famous for its restaurant site that is above water. Right below the dining table is a direct access to water (if you jump and obviously you don't want to because you're there to eat and I don't actually know how you're going to get up anyway). You can sit on the surrounding support, with you legs hanging above the water. Food is nice, seafood is obviously the way to go in this place. Price is still decent as well.

After our late lunch, the driver brought us to Bajo Mola village. Bajo tribe (google it for more detail!) is a tribe that in the past lived in the ocean. At some point, they settled around Wanci village. They are famous for their houses built on the water.
Bajo Mola's houses on water

Bajo Mola's houses, the wooden walkway is apparently quite fragile as I realised after  using it. We were lucky that we didn't fall down during our walk there.
The driver told me that the Bajo tribe will continue living in this way, as apparently they get sick easily if they live on the land. Then we were brought to Kontamale. The driver told me that it's 'air dalam batu' or water in a stone. I didn't understand what he meant by it. What we saw was a natural pool surrounded by water, with locals happy bathing in it. As it turned out, it's a water cave and people do actual diving to explore the inner of the cave.

We travelled to a fishmarket. The plan was to buy some fresh fished from the market and asked the resort restaurant to cook them for us. It was good. I forgot the name of one of the fishes we ate, but it has blue bones!
Fish market

Our last stop before we head back to Patuno is Wasabi Nua, a small restaurant situated on a stone  separated from the mainland by water. It's connected by a small wooden bridge though, making it all more exotic. We were there watch the sunset. It was a bit cloudy that day, but we enjoyed the view. I had STMJ (susu telor madu jahe or milk egg honey ginger) as my drink (yes, drink). A weird combination that I've never had before.

It was unfortunately the last night in wanci, I wish we have more time there as we would be able to snorkel and dive more. They actually offered us to dive with sharks, and also see doplhins! But all good things will come to an end. 

The next day, we departed from wakatobi in the morning. As usual, I never learned from my past experience. I initially assumed that the procedure at the airport would be quite simple. Who would want to invest in xray machines and all other stuffs just for an airport that serves one flight per day anyway. The thought was unfounded. They have two X-ray machines in the airport. The machines obviously worked properly as we were caught bringing shells we found on the beach. We didn't know it was illegal to bring shells from the beach as apparently the region is under the protection of the national park. The local people obviously didn't know about it because we did actually ask if it's allowed to bring the shells back and they said yes to us.

So, yeah, that marks the end of my wakatobi trip, will want to return there again some day. It was good.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Do not run away nor get attached to it

I just had a very amazing meditation session this evening. It was one of the best and shortest 35 minutes of meditation I've ever had. The theme of the meditation today is emotional pain. The abbot talked about the concept of emergency switch, where whenever we encounter an inconvenient situation, our brain immediately switches to emergency mode. For instance: when we feel itchy on our face or somewhere on our body, then we will react to it by scratching that part of surface, or when we are feeling pain on a certain part of our body, then our body will adjust to it by changing its position in the hope to kick away the pain. It's a similar concept when you feel angry, cheated, disappointed, so on and so forth.

One of the advices he gave on encountering this problem is not to switch on your emergency mode and neither to run away nor personalise it. Not to run away means that you don't try to deny its existence. Not to personalise it means not to let yourself sink in that sad or painful feeling. But instead you have to acknowledge that the feeling is there and be with it. When he asked us to meditate on the recent happenings in our life that gave us emotional pain, I could only think of one. During my meditation, many things started to resurface, like there was this flood of emotion in my mind. I could suddenly identify many events that are more recent that the one I initially thought. The emotional pain they inflicted on me were pretty intense. I tried to follow the advice, not to run away nor personalise it. But to acknowledge and be at peace with it. The best part is that the emotional pain slowly disappeared and in the end all of my grudges were gone. I didn't manage to get to the next ones, because the session was finished. But I think this is one of the greatest meditation revelations I've ever had.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Digital Archaeology

My DPhil supervisor, Alexy, is part of a team that for the last few months (years?) had been very busy with an undercover project, trying to capture images of important historical monuments that are under threat of destruction from the Daesh.

It is really well known that the Daesh wants to basically destroy everything, including ancient sites that are still around till these days. For whatever reasons they have, I don't want to dwell into that as it's probably not worth my and your time to find out. Anyway, the Institute of Digital Archaeology in UK together with scientists from University of Oxford and Harvard (as far as I can recall), came up with this idea of capturing 3D images of historical sites and monuments in Syria so that we will be able to recreate it in the future. They have to find volunteer photographers that were okay with being sent to the field, capturing 3D images with a simple, discreet and cheap 3D camera kit. The results are quite amazing and the quality of the pictures are really good. They were able to recreate the all of the details including the characteristics of the monument originated from the wear of time. All of the pictures were then uploaded online into the Million Image Database Project hosted by the Institute of Archaeology. I believe that all of these will be available online really soon.

One of the important historical sites that were destroyed by the Daesh is Palmyra. It was a 1800-year-old sites that had survived a lot of big civilisations wars and no one (probably) came close to destroying it and the Daesh did just that. When it was destroyed, everybody thought that this ancient heritage was lost forever. Thanks to this Million Image Database project, they managed to recreate the famous Arc of Triumph of Palmyra down to the finest detail they can have. The stone was then taken from an Italian Marble (if i am not wrong) and then carved using 3D milling machine on site. They were then transported to Trafalgar Square in London. Last Tuesday, I was there to witness the unveiling of this magnificent piece of art: the recreated Arc of Triumph of Palmyra. The recreated piece is a scaled down version of the real one because there is a weight restriction on the Trafalgar Square. Anyway, a lot of people came to witness the unveiling, the media was there, and the London Mayor: Boris Johnson, was there to do the honour of unveiling of the Arc.

It was truly a humbling experience to see one of the many instances where technology brings up the humanity in us. This project lights up the candle of hope for people, this time for the people of Syria. It's a symbolic gesture that violence can never win in the end, you can destroy all historical sites and kill people, but you can never destroy the bond that binds the Syrian people through generations.

Moments before Boris Johnson officially launch the Million Image Database

Before the arc was unveiled

The arc of Palmyra in the Trafalgar Square

Friday, April 8, 2016

An exemplary model of public governance

I was recently very interested in Jakarta's political scene. The current governor of Jakarta, Ahok, is a very unique example of a public leader that, I think it's fair to say, no one would have ever thought of appearing in Jakarta, let alone outside Java. He labelled himself as a triple minority: he's of Chinese descendant, he's a Christian, and he's not from Java. He's not afraid to be shown speaking in a chinese dialect to his mother when one of the TV station filmed his daily activities. He gave an interview in mandarin to a Chinese news channel. He's not afraid of ... basically ... (probably) anything.

Well, what I think is the most interesting of all is that he gave a very, I would say, exemplary example of a public leadership. With the election coming up in one year, everyone has been busy trying to rake up money and support from political party. But yet, he has decided to go for independent track, something that has never been tried before in Indonesia and he will probably be the first that may actually win a governor election through independent track. More importantly, as he has stated in a public interview, that he does not care if no one wants to elect him in the next election and he will keep working until the end of the term. He will work hard for the people and when the time has come and it turns out that he lost the election, then he will be okay with that. What's interesting is that an independent movement called Teman Ahok has been working so hard to gather support from the Jakarta people by collecting a copy of identity card and statement from everyone that he/she is supporting Ahok and his future deputy in the election. Collecting one million identity cards is not an easy task.  And yet, he entrusted this in teman Ahok, if they fail then (probably) that's it, he will be governor until next year. For him, if the people wants him to be the governor again, then the people will have to work hard to ensure that he gets elected and not the other way round. This is a stark difference from how the election has been carried out before, where the incumbent and the newcomers worked so hard to get the people's favour. 

This is an excellent example of a public leader that worked genuinely hard and honest for the people. And the people know and worked hard to get him elected again. He's my role model from now on. I learned so much from just looking at the way he handled problems. For me, he's more than just a role model, Ahok is the proof that Indonesia (people and mindset) has gone past beyond the old regime, that there is more than a bright future to Indonesia, that (undoubtedly) there are more people like Ahok that is genuinely working for the community and the nation. For me, this is a sign that there is a hope for Indonesia.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Macbook retiring soon?

The macbook pro I'm using right now has been accompanying me for almost seven years (6.5 to be fair..), and it's really getting really (literally) slow these days. With 4GB of RAM, it feels like it's going on the slow lane. I have been thinking of getting a new laptop lately, should I get one from apple? or should I get one from other brand?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My thought on LGBT

I recently encountered someone's status update in facebook about LGBT. I usually refrain myself from discussing any controversial topic unless if I know I would have a proper discussion with the person. While there's nothing wrong with the status update and he's entitled to have his own opinion, someone commented that LGBT culture is not suitable in our country which is based on Pancasila.

I was really surprised when I read about it. Pancasila? I may not have a solid law education in interpreting Pancasila, but as far as I know, there's no principle in Pancasila banning LGBT. So please don't bring Pancasila into the story and say that it contradicts LGBT. Of course, if there's a state rule saying that LGBT should be banned, then it's fine, you can based your argument on that rule, but please, not Pancasila.

While I believe that whether LGBT can be accepted or not depends on the local community, I cannot accept if someone brought in Pancasila's first principle which is about 'Tuhan yang Maha Esa'. It's roughly translated to 'belief in one god' (not the exact interpretation). But where does it mention that it does not accept LGBT? I can't imagine why someone in LGBT community cannot have a god. Everyone is entitled to believe in the god he/she wants to believe. I'm pretty annoyed when someone, because of his personal belief, take the first principle out of context.

Of course, if you don't accept LGBT, it's fine. If your religion does not accept LGBT (which I think is rather unfair, since they do no harm to others), then it's fine. But don't impose it to others! The same goes to the LGBT community, you just can't force everyone to accept you especially in Indonesia.

Whether LGBT is right or wrong, whether the behaviour of the individual is right or wrong, is a matter of personal affair between the individual and the god itself. In my opinion, this is just too personal.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

January Reflection

As the official Oxford term is starting again next week, I can't help to not think about my blog. It's been a while since I wrote something here. I guess it has been a pretty busy and enjoyable time here in Oxford. It's so liberating to not have anything related to admission essay, application and scholarship in your mind all the time. I still remember when I first started working in NTU, I somehow thought of applying for a graduate school two months in. I guess that might be a sign that I didn't really like the environment there.

I think I spent three months at the end of 2014 writing my admission essay everyday after work. Halfway in, I got to do a Skype chat with my current supervisor. I still remembered that I was really sick at that time, but then I forced myself to do the Skype right after my work. It went better than what I expected. I was then sick for the two to three days following the Skype chat. Admittedly, I am a pretty slow writer and it took me some time to synthesise something for my essay. Then there came the waiting period, where to be honest, I couldn't really recall what I did during that time. It was probably the time where I felt like I needed a rest. Then there was this feeling where I felt that I may have not even passed the document selection stage because I didn't get any email from them during the week where I was supposed to get one. If I remembered it correctly, it was probably during the week when I was working quite hard at work as well. So I thought, if I didn't pass then fine. No problem. I never expected to go to grad school that early and I was probably aiming for the impossible, i.e. a totally different subject and applying to Oxford. At least I told myself that I tried. One thing that no one knew, is that I secretly regret never having even tried applying to school like MIT or Oxford in high school. I knew the chance was small because the competition was fierce, but I should have at least tried. And at that time, I thought getting into NUS is already the best I could have (as it turned out, NUS experience is not so bad after all, give and take).

The admission interview went pretty well, and it wasn't very hard. One or two weeks after interview, no news. And I told myself, it's fine. At least you got shortlisted for interview. Many people asked me what will happen if I didn't get it, I told them: life goes on, not getting in is not the end of the world. I remembered it was friday evening,  I just came out of my lab, tired, things were probably not working at that time, heading back home. I was just doing the usual routine, checking Facebook, email etc.

And then I saw this email and it seemed that the world around me suddenly stopped....
"Your Application for a Place on Our DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics Programme"
Things seemed to be going really fast afterwards, okay, I thought: this is it, either yes or no. I read the email and quickly (impatiently) skimmed through it. The first paragraph read
Dear Sandoko,

I am writing to let you know that the University considered you for a DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics starting in October 2015. We were very impressed by your application and attach therefore a formal initial offer letter, which details the conditions which you will need to meet to become a student of the University.
I was like YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! My first impression is: finally, something's good coming out of today. And then I realised that this is more than that, I got admitted into Oxford! Something I never really thought could be possible until that moment. I had a nice evening afterwards, I don't remember what I ate that evening.

Anyway, this is a pretty nice recollection that I wish to be written in this blog so that someday I can read this back and remember the nice memory.

As of now, I find that I have a plenty of time to do more things (but still not enough, I need to be more efficient in my time management). I hope that my knowledge can get to a decent level so that I can stop reading and spend more time thinking. Being in Oxford gives me a lot of opportunity to meet and interact with brilliant people from other subjects. I hope that I make use of this opportunity at its fullest.

I used to eat while watching movies or browsing Facebook. Now I put away my laptop and read The Economists to get the latest update from the rest of the world. Otherwise, I feel like an idiot when I interact to people from other subject. Yesterday, I went to a weekly meditation session in a Buddhist vihara in Oxford (my first time!). Surprisingly the place is quite nice and the meditation session is long enough that I think, for the first time, I managed to catch and hold my mind still for a while. It felt very blissful. I came and went away but you can feel it. And for the first time as well, I managed to meditate for 45 minutes straight and came out feeling that 45 minutes passed faster than I expected. It was awesome, I hope to maintain this practice in the weeks to come.

Oh yes, I went to Morocco for 5 days. It was awesome! I got to ride on a camel and spent a night in the sahara desert! For the first time in my life, I saw a sky so full of stars. I managed to spot at least three shooting stars as well! My travel mates were awesome as well! Will post the photos here next time when I feel like it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two months in

So far, everything is going pretty well. I'm starting to get used to how things are done here. I actually like it here very much. I stayed in a very small room in a house far from most of the place in Oxford. I wouldn't say that it's very far in distance but there's literally nothing much other than houses in my neighbourhood. It's pretty nice and quiet though. I would have to cycle through the park connector road, which is quite beautiful in the morning but pretty scary in the evening. There is always this very dark and narrow road that I have to go through every time I returned home in the evening. However, behind all that, because there's not so much light pollution here, I can see a lot of stars here in Oxford, clearly. It's always nice to look at the sky before I entered the house.

Things have been very different from my last two years in Singapore. When I first returned to France,  I have to admit that, even until this day, what I did last time was crazy. The learning curve was pretty steep and I kinda forced myself into the experiment just for the sake of getting something to write for my thesis. My work-life balance in NTU was not so bad but the whole year was pretty much occupied with writing essays for Oxford application and LPDP scholarship. So, I did nothing much interesting on the physics side. 

Now, then I'm in Oxford, I get to free myself from all of the things that had been bothering me last year, so I am really full time into my studies and research! I am also trying to learn new things as well and try to be more active in the Indonesian community here in Oxford. I hope I can contribute something for the community here. 

I'm not really in the mood to write actually, so I will probably stop here and write another time. There will be pictures next time, I promise...